By Nirina Kiplagat
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”-Nelson Mandela
Twelve years ago, while I was working in the Conflict Resolution Programme of the Carter Centre, I was part of a team that organized workshops for youth from divided societies. One of the youth groups came from the Cincinnati Museum Center. Due to heightened inter-racial tensions and riots in Cincinnati, interactions among the young people in the program had become strained. During the workshop, we conducted exercises on such topics as prejudice, stereotyping, active listening, reframing and mediation. I was particularly struck by how these simple exercises resonated so deeply among these young people. I saw them have their “Aha!” moments as they began to view one another with a different lens.
We later received a letter of thanks from the Youth Programme Director who said that those who participated in the program had changed the way they interacted with one another. They looked for similarities and identified their prejudices so they can overcome them. In short – they engaged in dialogue resulting in the formation of friendships. The Youth Programme Director approached the Carter Center because he recognized that it is not possible to work around conflict. Though the Cincinnati Museum Center program focused on developing youth, it could not achieve its aims without considering the context within which the young participants were living at the time and without incorporating conflict resolution skills into the program.
This example illustrates how transforming a context is not only about agreements, political settlements and new institutions, but also involves examining attitudes, relationships, common narratives and how we define ourselves and others. This is not only necessary for leaders or decision makers in a conflict but is applicable to everyone, particularly the young people who will shape future societies. Conflict transformation means “…addressing the structural roots of conflict by changing existing patterns of behavior and creating a culture of nonviolent approaches. It proposes an integrated approach to peacebuilding that aims to bring about long-term changes in personal, relational, structural, and cultural dimensions.” It is thus clear that education, both formal and informal, plays an integral role in conflict transformation. However, it is important to note that it can also play a negative role. Therefore, to ensure that education programs maximize positive impacts, one of the most effective ways is through infusing conflict sensitivity into education planning and programming processes.
Applying a conflict sensitive lens examines not only how we work, but also what we are doing and whether this is making a contribution to conflict prevention and peacebuilding.
- Applies to all contexts, regardless of the severity or frequency of violence, even in situations where underlying tensions have not recently resulted in violence;
- Applies across and throughout all working levels from the operational to the management and strategic policy level;
- Applies to all types of work including humanitarian, development, peacekeeping and peacebuilding;
- Applies to all actors and sectors including work conducted by UN agencies, development partners, local civil society, government and the private sector.
While there appears to be widespread awareness particularly among humanitarian and development practitioners of the “Do No Harm” concept and of conflict sensitivity itself, this does not always translate into an application of conflict sensitivity. Although awareness-raising sessions have been held within organizations, the gap in application has been due to a gap in skills development in the application of a conflict sensitive approach. To address this gap there are some recently developed practical tools, which are available for use by any practitioner. The Inter-Agency Network of Education in Emergencies (INEE) has developed a Conflict Sensitive Education pack comprised of a Guidance Note, Guiding Principles on Integrating Conflict Sensitivity in Education Policy and Programming in Conflict-Affected and Fragile Contexts, and a Reflection Tool for Designing and Implementing Conflict Sensitive Education Programmes in Conflict-Affected and Fragile Contexts, which was launched in April 2013.
Meanwhile, the UN Inter-Agency Framework Team for Preventive Action has led the development of an online training course on conflict sensitivity available for the UN system, partners and other practitioners. The online course offers learners the opportunity to acquire a deeper understanding, practical knowledge and hands-on skills for conflict-sensitive approaches in humanitarian, development, educational, peacebuilding and security work, among others. The course has two modules. The first explores the basic concepts of conflict sensitivity, reflects on individual attitudes and behavior and how we are affected by working in conflict-affected contexts. It also looks at the relevance of conflict sensitivity at organizational and strategic levels, as well as internal issues such as values, working principles, internal and external communication, staffing and budget allocation. The second module is more interactive as the learners are given the opportunity to apply conflict-sensitive approaches in a fictitious environment in either politically complex, acute violence or post-conflict phases. The course uses a simple three step model to apply conflict sensitivity:
Step 1: Understand the context in which it operates;
Step 2: Understand the interaction between the organization’s interventions and the context;
Step 3: Act upon these understandings to avoid negative impacts (Do No Harm) and maximize positive impacts (“development ++” and peacebuilding).
The course will be available online in late February 2014. In addition to UN web platforms, it will also be publically available without charge on the UN Staff College website to allow partners, civil society and other practitioners to access this knowledge product.
The hope is that, with the combination of efforts of training, simple tools, and technical support where possible, conflict sensitivity will be effectively mainstreamed into all programs. Since the ways in which policy and programmatic interventions address the challenges and potentials of young people will influence the social conditions of future generations, integrating conflict sensitivity into education programs in particular is fundamental. Conflict sensitivity not only has the potential to alter societal contradictions and improve relations and interactions, but can also shape attitudes in ways that can reduce the risk of conflict and help build sustainable peace.
 There are three options for working in situations of conflict: Around -not working explicitly on conflict issues, In – through humanitarian or other conflict sensitive engagements during the conflict or On – explicit peacebuilding focused interventions.
 UNSSC Peace and Security Glossary
 Adapted from UN Conflict Sensitivity online course developed by the UN Inter-Agency Framework for Preventive Action
 INEE is a network of more than 10,000 individual members living and working in more than 170 countries. INEE members are practitioners working for national and international NGOs and UN agencies, Ministries of Education and other government personnel, donors, students, teachers, and researchers who voluntarily join in the work related to education in emergencies
 For further information on the pack and tools refer to: http://www.ineesite.org/en/education-fragility/conflict-sensitive-education#Why
 The course was developed by the United Nations Inter-agency Framework Team on Preventive Action, and an inter-agency Task Force with the support of a consultant from the Swisspeace foundation and the UNDP Learning Centre. The initiative has been particularly well received by partner agencies and donors, with contributions received from UNICEF, UNWomen and the Swiss Government.